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Centralized vs. Cloud: How Do They Measure Up? (Guest post)

One of the biggest battles in the modern computing environment is that of centralized vs. distributed systems. But are they so different?

In recent times, a lot has been made of the benefits of cloud computing over traditional centralized methods of storing data, such as the mainframe, which must be accessed with terminal emulation software. In reality, both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both certainly have their place in the world of computing. In this article we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of both to see how they measure up.

Why centralized computing?

Whatever the perceived benefits of cloud computing, the fact remains that in terms of reliability, the centralized mainframe is still the benchmark. Reliability is crucial for large enterprises where periods of downtime can lead to costs in the millions, and it’s why the vast majority of the world’s Fortune 500 companies — a list which includes banks, telecommunications providers and airlines — continue to rely on the mainframe.

The IBM z9, for example, includes anti-tamper packages for storing master encryption keys. These work by zeroing out data and stopping intruders from accessing them. Mainframes also allow for separate partitions to be segregated in a more effective manner, allowing background functions — the backing up of data, for example — to occur without overall performance being compromised.

Why cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a relatively new technology when compared with the mainframe, but it’s actually been around for longer than many realise. In fact, most of us have been using cloud-based services for years. Take web-based email providers such as Hotmail or Gmail, for example; these are online services which can be accessed by anybody, anywhere and at any time.

Basically, the idea of cloud computing is to uncouple the delivery of computer services from their underlying technology. Through cloud computing, all users need is a computer and a password in order to access the necessary database whenever they want. The server itself is hosted by a vendor, meaning users (whether personal or business) only need to purchase access to it — they don’t need to outlay the capital associated with setting up a mainframe and paying a team of experts to run it.

Cloud computing is also highly scalable and updatable, meaning it can be tailored to the size of businesses, from Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) to larger corporations. As a business grows, it does not need to worry about replacing centralized and updatable technology. All it must do is provide access to the service to more users.

Are the two mutually exclusive?

While the days of mainframe green-screen terminal access have gone, being replaced with user-friendly interfaces through Windows terminal emulators, the important role that the mainframe plays will remain. Despite all the buzz about cloud computing, centralized systems are far from dead.

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